School of thought: Sticking to only one

Q589 :Every Muslim should follow the Prophet (peace be on him), but is it also necessary that every Muslim should follow one of the four schools of thought? If the answer is in the affirmative, how do we account for this considering that these schools of thought were established much later than the Prophet?

A589 : The short answer to this question is that it is not necessary to follow any one of the four major schools of thought. Nor is it done in practice except by a few people. If a person has enough knowledge of Islam and how rulings are deduced from texts of the Qur'an and the Hadith, he normally looks at every question separately, choosing the ruling which he feels to be weightier regardless of which school of thought subscribes to it. On the other hand, if he has only scanty knowledge of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, then he follows whatever ruling is given by a scholar in any particular matter. Take for example the readers of Arab News who write to me. They take my advice without questioning me regarding the school of thought which advocates that particular opinion. It is true that some of them mention that they belong to a particular school of thought and request an opinion on its basis. I try to accommodate them as far as possible, but sometimes I prefer to give them the opinion which is most suitable, or easiest to follow in their particular circumstances. Sometimes I give an advice on a serious question which is contrary to what all four schools of thought say. For example, in the case of pronouncing divorce three times in one session. I lean towards the opinion of Imam Ibn Taimiyah, who is no less an imam than the founders of the four schools of thought. He states that such a divorce counts as a single, revocable divorce. You will appreciate the amount of misery that is avoided by following this ruling which is supported by strong evidence from Hadith and by a growing number of scholars and which has been incorporated in the family law of a number of Muslim Countries. Only when a scholar has studied a particular school of thought thoroughly and when he subscribes to its methodology that we find a person strictly following that school of thought. He is of course entitled to his decision. What we must not forget is that the schools of thought are simply methods of deduction of various rulings concerning the affairs of human life. They are all based on the teachings of the Prophet and the practices of his companions and the opinions learned from scholars in the early period of Islam.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )